A most original gangster
Hip-hop pioneer Tricky doesn't know how he does what he
does, but, says Neil McCormick, the results are magic

YOU HAVE to be careful what you say about Tricky. The acclaimed musician and former petty criminal was so incensed by an article in the Face magazine that he
recorded a song with hip-hop band Silver Bullet (as yet unreleased) about putting the offending journalist (Andrew Smith) in the boot of a car and shooting him in his

"You see what that journalist has done, he's become part of my life," Tricky railed in an interview with Time Out. "He's upset me and he's upset my family. It would
be the easiest thing in the world for me to say to someone, 'Listen, this guy needs to have something happen to him.' It's only common sense that stops me." 

So perhaps I should take this opportunity to stress that I have only the greatest respect for both the man and his music. And to point out that in the event of my
sudden death my lawyers have been instructed to release a gratuitously negative review of his latest album. 

Mind you, if it ever does come to that it will probably be the only bad review he receives. The appropriately titled Pre-Millennium Tension, a poisonous stew of
mangled, distorted sounds and corrosive sentiments, has been hailed as this week's masterpiece by the ever-excitable British music press. 

As an exercise in uneasy listening, PMT (released by Fourth & Broadway next Monday) makes his disturbing début, Maxinquaye, sound mellow by comparison.
While the new album may prove too abstruse for mass sales, it confirms that the sinister sound terrorist is the most original and (Noel Gallagher aside) arguably the
most influentual musician in Britain. 

If you can call him a musician. Tricky's instrument is the studio itself, and even he doesn't seem to know exactly what it is he does. "People can't work out my music,
but neither can I," he has commented. "I just put it together. I don't know how it happens." He has compared himself to a child splashing around with pots of paint
and admits he has no idea what a track will sound like until it is finished. 

His somnambulant drum-loops, spacious bass and atmospheric arrangements helped create and define the trip-hop sound now so prevalent in British pop. Living up
to his name and prickly reputation, however, Tricky has been increasingly disparaging about the genre. 

Performing at the Shepherd's Bush Empire in west London last year, he asked if there were "any fans of trip-hop in the house?" When a section of the crowd yelled
in the affirmative, Tricky hissed, "Well, you can **** off home then." 

Tricky's music has become progressively more difficult to define. The weird mosaics he creates are not songs in the traditional sense, more jumbles of samples and
rhythms that coalesce into quasi-musical mood pieces. And the mood is usually black. PMT opens with Vent, an arrhythmic, atonal, bad-tempered squabble in which
the asthmatic Tricky accuses fellow vocalist Martina Topley Bird of hiding his inhaler. 

Other titles on this cheerful collection include Bad Dreams, Bad Things, My Evil is Strong and Makes Me Wanna Die. Tricky claims to find his music "relaxing",
which suggests he may not be an ideal companion for a quiet night in. 

Whatever it is he does, Tricky is much in demand to do it for other artists. In the 20 months since the release of Maxinquaye he has worked on remixes and duets
with an astonishing roster of talent, including Björk, Bush, Neneh Cherry, Elvis Costello, Garbage, Gravediggaz, Terry Hall, Intastella, Grace Jones, Yoko Ono and

He produced a showcase EP of underground New York hip-hop artists, Tricky Presents Grassroots (on the Payday label), released an album of oblique
collaborations as his alter-ego Nearly God (on his own Durban Poison label) and has almost completed another, for which he will assume the identity Drunkenstein. 

These days, Tricky lives in New York. He has made his film début opposite Bruce Willis in Luc Besson's as-yet-untitled new movie. He hangs out with people like
Bono and Gary Oldman. Naomi Campbell has been ringing, begging him to produce her next album. David Bowie even wrote a short story about him in Q. This is
the rarefied stratum of genuine stardom, but it is his troubled past in England that still dominates interviews and informs Tricky's music. 

Born in 1968, he was raised as Adrian Thaws on a notorious council estate in Bristol. He comes from what he has described as a long line of "thieves and villains".
One of his great-grandfathers was hanged for sheep-stealing. The other was a bare-knuckle fighter. His mother, an epileptic, committed suicide when he was four
years old. His father left shortly afterwards, abandoning Adrian to his extended family. 

"A guy threw a stone at my head when I was eight," he once recalled. "I told my nan, and she said, 'Get a bigger stone.' That's what I got programmed into me. And
sometimes I find it a struggle to get it out of me." 

His teens were spent getting up to what he disingenuously describes as "mischief", leading to a short spell in youth custody for dealing forged £50 notes. Music
proved to be his salvation. As a breathtakingly confident young rapper, Tricky came to the attention of Massive Attack and contributed to their influential Blue Lines
album in 1991. 

He departed before the follow-up, apparently because they could not countenance the increasingly dark and disturbing nature of his work. For while Tricky may, in
his own words, have "left the ghetto" he would be the first to admit that it has not left him. "I've never been shown how to get rid of my anger. I think I do it through
my music," he has admitted. "That's what's good about Pre-Millennium Tension. On this record I can do anything I want. I can kill you, I can beat you up, I can kick
you in the head, I can voodoo you. And then it's gone." 

Which sentiments may come as something of a relief to Andrew Smith. "It was bad what he said," Tricky recently remarked. "But then again I got a wicked song out
of it. And now I don't hate him so much." 

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